written by gkim
In the Korean American room salons, it is almost the same protocol as in Korea. The men usually end up going home with the girls or the girls’ phone numbers at the least. From what I’ve seen in the States, if the customer really falls hard for one of the girls, they usually want to take them on trips to Vegas in order to have sex with them. However this is impossible unless the girls’ debts are paid. Many of the girls who were trafficked across the borders into America are not free to wander as they please whereas the girls in Korea are. The room salons keep track of all debts accrued by the girls for their initial apartment deposits, car down payments, living expenses, airplane tickets, etc…when they get to America. When the customers give a cash tip to the girls which is a customary minimum of $100 for the night, the girls get to keep this cash. However, if the girls get a credit card tip, the room salon keeps it and deducts the amount from their debts. Since most of the tips are cash, the debts are decreased very slowly. All passports and ID cards are confiscated by the room salon owners as the girls are issued fake IDs to live in America. The apartments and cars are also all signed under the room salon owners’ names or associates of the room salon owners. So, if a customer wanted to take a girl out for a few days to Vegas per say, he would come to the room salon, pay off tens of thousands of dollars usually, and then be free to take her. Most girls are actually free after their debts are paid however they end up going back to the room salons because they aren’t legal to work anywhere else or get a home under their names. These women are never given back their real passports or IDs as the owners think this to be too risky for their businesses. If a girl gets “lucky” and one of the customers actually marries her, she will be able to live life in America depending on her husband to provide for her. This rarely happens, but it’s not unheard of either. Now, if this does happen, the girl might be able to negotiate with the room salon to have her passport and ID be returned back to her so that she may live a normal life.
As far as the girls who willingly work in room salons in America and Korea who are free to come and go as they please– they are still victimized and violated in numerous ways. They’re still exploited on a daily basis. However these women do not consider themselves as victims and nor do a lot of others view them as such. This is a huge problem because they are intermingling in dangerous territory unaware of the deleterious outcomes on their lives in the future. By being voluntary participants, some of them are also indirectly helping the pimps and traffickers, who have coerced other women into the industry. These women who get in voluntarily are indeed victims regardless of how society may view them even if they themselves do not believe this to be so.
Usually, there will be a real owner and a “face” owner. The face owner acts as if he or she is the owner when people come to the brothel and also manages everything internally. The actual owner will hardly be visible and will only collect the profits earned from the alcohol. The face owner at times will make extra side money pimping out the girls to specific clients who request to meet them outside for sex. There is also trading of these girls as if they are merchandise. The room salons trade different girls by paying off their debts to buy them. Once another room salon pays off a particular girl’s debt, she will be transferred to that room salon where she will continue to pay off that debt there. Obviously, if the girl makes a name for herself in the room salon world and gains popularity, she will be more sought after by other room salons.
A lot of these girls have either been lured by traffickers with promises of jobs in America, they have come from poverty, or sometimes, they are room salon workers from Korea who are looking to work elsewhere in the world. Since drugs are more easily accessible in America than in Korea, and are much cheaper, a lot of the girls become addicted to cocaine or heroine. They spend all of their earnings on fancy clothing and drugs most of the time. Two girls I met actually went to a hotel with two of their customers. The men provided cocaine for them in return for an orgy. When things like this happen, the room salon owners are fully aware of where their girls are at every moment. Their every move is tracked and monitored by associates of the room salons as well as the underground Korean taxi companies for the entire duration of employment in the room salons as long as they are in debt.
Once these girls hit a certain age of around 28-30, they begin to look much older than their peers due to the immense alcohol consumption, drug use, and cigarette smoking. So, their only choices become the life of a madam at a room salon or to go into other arenas of the underground sex industry such as massage parlors, whorehouses, or hostess bars. I once met a girl who was 35, and she looked about 40. She had worked in the room salons for quite some time, going from one of the girls to becoming a madam who brings the girls into the rooms. Then she became so addicted to drugs that she couldn’t function at the room salons any longer. She had paid off her initial debts but had continuously gotten into more and more debt to support her drug habits. Eventually, she ended up prostituting herself from her apartment to much older customers. She was stuck in LA with no job, no way to support herself, and a small apartment that was rented out for her by a man who wished to have sex with her anytime in exchange for the roof over her head.
The reason why these room salons are so difficult to shut down is because they look like karaoke rooms called “noraebangs” where people rent rooms by the hour to sing and drink together. Also, because most Korean companies including newspaper agencies, frequent these places as entertainment after work dinners, they cover these businesses up in the media. They help these brothels stay open. The madam gets phone calls warning her of possible raids by government agents. On those nights, the girls would be required to take their handbags into the rooms with the customers. Usually, there is one room set aside for the girls to wait in until they have customers, and this is where they would leave their personal belongings. However on the nights with possible raids, the girls prepare themselves to appear as if they are actual customers who came into the establishment with the men to sing, just as in a typical karaoke room.